Thirteen of the 15 candidates for city elections discussed their qualifications and stances on a variety of issues Monday night at the Columbus Municipal Complex. And only about 30 residents were seated in the Municipal Complex Court — about .16 percent of the city’s 18,497 registered voters.
Democratic incumbent Mayor Robert Smith, independent mayoral candidate Thom Geiger, Democratic Ward 1 City Council incumbent Gene Taylor, Republican Ward 2 incumbent Susan Mackay and Ward 2 Democratic candidates Joseph Mickens and Troy Miller attended the forum, sponsored by the Columbus-Lowndes County League of Voters.
Republican Ward 3 incumbent Gene Coleman, Republican Ward 3 candidate Charlie Box, Republican Ward 5 incumbent Jay Jordan, Democratic Ward 5 candidates Kabir Karriem and Kenneth McFarland, Ward 6 Republican incumbent Jerry Kendall and Republican Ward 6 candidate Bill Gavin also were in attendance.
The candidates each had an opportunity to explain their qualifications and reasons for running and their feelings on the city’s problems as they fielded questions from moderator Glenda Buckhalter, a radio commentator with the 1050 AM radio station.
Speaking on service
“As your mayor for the past 2 1/2 years, I have worked to be a nonpartisan leader,” said Robert Smith. “I feel I have worked to pro-actively deal with city issues and worked to achieve some major goals, like improving infrastructure, helping the city be financially stable, working for economic development and reducing crime.”
Several candidates echoed Smith’s thoughts as they attempted to convince voters to vote for them in the May 5 primary and the June 2 general elections.
“I came to Columbus to serve people, not to serve Gene Taylor,” Taylor said. “The past few years has been a trying time for us, and I think it has really prepared me to continue to hold this seat.”
“My experience is my qualification, and if I am re-elected, I will continue to serve with the utmost respect and love that this city deserves,” Taylor added. “Drainage is one of the core problems our city faces right now, along with parks and recreation, getting our kids off the streets and putting more into education.”
Many candidates mentioned the city’s frequent flooding woes as they named what they believed were Columbus’ biggest problems.
“I’ve been flooded three times since ’95. It’s not just a problem, it’s a major problem,” said Joseph Mickens. “I believe that you have to work with many different people to get things done, even if you don’t agree with them on some issues. We can see the problem and sit here looking at it all day, but I will get out there and actually do something to help solve it.”
Troy Miller said, if elected, he hopes to help Columbus reach its “full potential” and work to identify the city’s “common goals.”
“Financial responsibility, infrastructure and preparing the city for after the recession are my goals,” said Miller. “If we allow our infrastructure to decline, it will have a negative impact on our overall tax base. That can create a big problem for the city.”
Susan Mackay also referenced Columbus’ flooding problem, saying the problem has been around for a “long time.”
“It’s going to take a bond issue or some other kind of city action to fix this $60-$80 million drainage problem,” said Mackay. “Serving you is my top priority, and the job I have started is not yet done. I have a great love for Columbus, and I believe that to prosper, we have to work together.”
Thom Geiger presented an alternative method of solving the problems mentioned by the other candidates.
“I can’t pick one problem out as the most important one, because everyone in the city has different problems that affect them in some way,” said Geiger. “I am a big advocate of government openness and everyone being involved in their government. If the government told you what it was doing, most of the city’s problems would be going away.”
Charlie Box named safety as the top problem facing residents of Columbus, particularly those living in Ward 3.
“I’ve put some thought into this, and I believe a lot of people are concerned about safety in many of the neighborhoods in East Columbus,” said Box. “I was the executive director of the YMCA for many years, and I believe that position perfectly prepared me to hold this position. I want to serve the people, and now that I’m retired, I have full time to devote to that job.”
Gene Coleman touted the city’s “progress during the past few years” and praised Columbus’ current administration for “working very well together.”
“In times like these, you have to set priorities. That’s what this mayor and City Council has done for the past few years,” said Coleman. “We’ve cut back on some things, hired about 13 or 15 new police officers to address the safety concerns and we’ve been working to address the drainage problems facing much of the city.”
Problems specific to wards
Kabir Karriem seemed to agree with Geiger, explaining residents have different problems depending on where they live.
“The problems people face really depends a lot on the area they live in,” said Karriem. “In Ward 5, many people are worried about the roads and the safety of their neighborhoods. I believe Ward 5 has suffered from sheer neglect during the past few years. I don’t think Jay (Jordan) has properly represented Ward 5.”
Jordan responded by explaining he has worked in the past to address several issues in Ward 5 and throughout the city.
“I try to look at things on a citywide basis. I will say, though, that there have been more streets paved in Ward 5 than in any other ward in the past few years,” Jordan said. “I am the most qualified for this position because I’ve been doing it. Ward 5 is a needy ward, and I have worked to get it more attention than any other ward in the city.”
Kenneth McFarland said he plans to focus on education and job training if elected.
“I believe that it is important to prepare people for the future through education and also through job readiness programs,” said McFarland. “I want to work with young people in the city to get them to invest themselves into this community.”
Bill Gavin said he planned to take a financially based approach to solving the city’s problems.
“Most of the problems mentioned tonight can be solved with money, so I believe we need to look at innovative ways to bring money into the city,” said Gavin. “We need to invest in things that will bring good returns to the city. I am a worker, and I will be responsible and accessible to the people who elect me.”
Jerry Kendall touted his experience on the City Council, and said his track record should stand as testament to his abilities.
“I have a lot of experience in supervising projects in my political, business and personal life.” Kendall said. “I believe that is necessary to be able to take on this position and be successful.”
Weighing in on annexation
Each of the candidates also weighed in on the idea of city annexation. Although all candidates said they were in favor of expanding the city, they shared different plans for accomplishing it.
“We’ve already done a study of seven areas that we are looking to annex into the city,” said Kendall. “After we annexed them, we would have five years to provide services like fire and police protection, and we’ve also already got a plan to get them those services as quickly as possible. We decided we were going to save that plan for the next council, so it’s just waiting until after the election.”
While all the candidates agreed the city needed to annex land to increase its tax base, Mickens, Miller, Geiger, Coleman, McFarland, Karriem and Gavin said the city should take time to carefully consider the land it annexes.
“Don’t just go out and annex 200 people who don’t want to be annexed,” said Geiger. “We’ve got to make absolutely sure that we will be able to provide city services after